MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING (1997) ** maximum.
I saw this film on Friday. As the end credits rolled by, I thought :"TGIF" -- Thank God It's Finished. MBFW seems to be an attempt at a 90s screwball romantic comedy, vaguely along the lines of much earlier ones. But instead of a crazy, outlandish structure, minutely plotted, diversified and with strong ensemble playing (think of Cary Grant gems such as His Girl Friday and My Favorite Wife, both of 1940), this picture is made to showcase Julia Roberts at the expense of everything and everyone else. Almost, that is.
The film's fourth banana, English actor Rupert Everett, salvages the show, steals every scene he's in, even those in which he speaks to Roberts on long-distance calls. Roberts plays Julianne, a New York food critic who refers to "creme brulee" as "kraym broolay." Everett is George, her editor and confidant. He is handsome, sexy, smart. He is also gay,which you certainly wouldn't know if you hadn't been told from the start.
Nine years ago Julianne had a torrid but short affair with college-mate Michael. Julianne is no long-distance runner when it comes to relationships, but the reasons why the twosome stopped are still not clear. They switched to being best friends and such perfect soulmates that they made a pact: if by the time they reached age 28 they had found no true love, they would marry each other.
The time has come. Michael, now a sportswriter in Chicago, calls Julianne, but instead of popping the question he announces feverishly that in four days he will marry young college girl Kimmy, the daughter of Chicago tycoon. He has such prenuptual jitters that Julianne simply must come and lend support.
For Julianne this comes as an IRA bomb throw. It triggers in her the absolute notion that Michael is the man of her life. She flies in, ostensibly to help him, but in reality to get him away from Kimmy.
The film, always focused on Roberts, is the string of Julianne's machiavellian machinations. She charms the eager fiancee ("You're my new best friend" says naive Kimmy), worms her way into and works on everybody, systematically diminishes Kimmy in Michael's eyes. A few of her strategies are amusing, most are too cruel to be entertaining, as when she manoeuvers tin-eared Kimmy into singing karaoke in a truly atrocious voice.The story becomes increasingly phony, nonsensical and often verges on hysteria.
So-feminine Julianne is called Jules by her friends. It is a significant detail. I am sure that the scriptwriter had His Girl Friday (1940) in mind. That movie was a remake of The Front Page (1931), where two battling Chicago newsmen were named respectively Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson. In His Girl Friday Cary Grant plays editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson now becomes a woman (Rosalind Russell) and Walter's ex-wife. She's currently engaged to Ralph Bellamy, whom Grant undermines and ridicules so as to get Russell back, both as a star reporter and as his wife. There are other parallels between MBFD and His Girl.
Julia Roberts is considered blessed by the tooth-fairy by many, and no doubt beloved by dentists. She throws herself into her role body and soul, but the script is incomplete about her character, and makes her barefaced tactics for the reconquest of Michael unappealing --even nasty.
Michael is namby-pamby, Kimmy is painfully immature, both lack personality, both are credulous dim-bulbs and lambs too easily led to slaughter. Script and performers seem to grope as to what might come next. There are hardly any sparkling lines of dialogue, except for Rupert Everett's. Even then, when he shows up in Chicago and tells a group that Jules went with so many men "that she couldn't sit down for seven years," this indelicacy is out of character for George. Still, far and away, the best part is when he poses dashingly, convincingly and funnily as the fiance of Jules, and enchants one and all.
The film becomes exponentially cynical, confused and incredible, including many psychological as well as time-and-space impossibilities in the last reel. The finale is a non-closure cop-out. The only touching scene is in a corridor of the Drake Hotel, a quiet hiatus in which a passing bellman called Richard gently tries to boost the morale of a despondent Julianne. I think that the actor is Paul Giamatti.
That old movie subject --love-stricken people using strategies that will lead to marriage-- is not very applicable today. In 1997 such romanticism does not jibe with the rate of 54.8% marriages ending in divorce. You don't need statistics either to know how increasingly short-lived so many marriages are. Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett were not an isolated case. Sad but true,"'til death do us part" in movies has become a hard sell.